It’s the 3rd Monday of January and we take time to celebrate the birthday of arguably one of the most influential Americans – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year marks the 33rd year of his birthday being signed into law as a federal holiday and throughout the nation, celebrations and expressions of community service honor the famed Civil Rights leader.
My name is Anthony Caples and I’m the Volunteer Pastoral Assistant at our West Allis Campus. When I was a young minister I read the collection of Dr. King’s writings and his words began to challenge my theology. Was I doing enough? Am I comfortable in challenging oppression? Am I willing to sacrifice all in the name of righteousness? As a young boy growing up in post Civil Rights era Milwaukee in the 1970’s & 80’s, I’ve experienced my share of racism. Living out the dream has proven to be an arduous task and here in 2016, we still are facing challenges in race relations. It can be said that in many ways we’ve regressed as a nation in the past years.
Now in my mid 40’s, I’ve began to see Martin in a different light. I began to see Martin as a Revolutionary, knowing that during the Montgomery Bus Boycott the President of the National Baptist Convention was against the social activism of King. President Joseph Jackson urged church leadership and members to abstain from making waves in this growing movement.
We forget that Dr. King didn’t ask for justice nicely. He demanded justice. He didn’t just give a flowery speech. He was beaten, arrested over 70 times and eventually killed for equality for marginalized people. When we devote ourselves to order instead of justice; when we “prefer negative peace which is the absence of tension to positive peace which is the presence of justice” (MLK) – then we become the most effective agents of oppression. It is a tendency to do nothing and “hope” things will get better as opposed to working together and making things better.
It is with this in mind that there is a call for boldness. A call for men to stand for righteousness in the face of adversity. A call to proclaim what is just in an unjust world. A call to proclaim unity in a world that has become more divisive. A call to unify one of the last vestiges of separation in our society, that is the racial divide within the church.
Martin was inspired and mentored in the philosophy of nonviolent resistance from his predecessor Howard Thurman. The use of fire hoses was violent. The dogs were violent, as were the attacks such as Bloody Sunday; but the people of all ages and races worked together in peace and unity. My mother’s family even nursed Fanny Lou Hamer back to health after she was attacked during the civil rights movement because the hospitals in that area at the time wouldn’t care for Black patients.
“The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires”. – Howard Thurman
It is these words that inspired Martin. It is Martin’s words that inspire me. It is my hope that the Spirit guides me in this present day to encourage and inspire the generation to come.
It is easy to romanticize the legacy of Dr. King as a larger than life figure; an icon that achieved astronomical feats of courage and sacrifice for the poor and disenfranchised. It is easy to limit his life’s work to a few profound quotations of the “I have a dream” speech. But I challenge us today to reflect on who Martin Luther King Jr. was. He was a husband. He was a father. He was a friend. Most importantly, Martin was a man of faith that lived out the teachings of Jesus Christ. Dr. King gave us an example of a life well lived as a Servant-Leader. The following are some of his words that chronicle aspects of his faith journey and serve as a testament of love in action:
On loving our enemies
“Now there is a final reason why I think that Jesus says “love your enemies”. It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long.Oh they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at the transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It’s redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love.” – reflection of Matthew 5:44
On compassion for others
“The first question in which the Priest and Levite asked was ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ The Samaritan reversed the question:’ If I don’t stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” – a reflection of the parable of the Good Samaritan St. Luke 10:25-37
On being steadfast in our faith
“The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” – Letter from the Birmingham Jail 1 Peter 3:13-17
On living a life of service
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is,”what are you doing for others?” – a reflection of Matthew 7:12
Let us aspire to follow Martin’s example of living out our faith in following Christ, the Great Servant Leader. Happy MLK Day!